Pioneering stem cell-based transplant technology is being developed and tested on new organs and tissues.
Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has made his name by successfully transplanting bioengineered stem cell-based trachea, composed of both artificial and biological material. He now plans to use the technique to recreate more complex tissues, such as the oesophagus and diaphragm or organs such as the heart and lungs. He has also made an experimental attempt to regenerate brain in mice and rats. This is part of the news he will be presenting during his seminar at the scientific AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
In June 2011, media all over the world reported about a ground breaking transplant, where a patient received an artificial trachea covered in his own stem cells. The result was an artificial windpipe with biological functions. To date, five operations have been carried out using this technique.
“We learn something from each operation. This means we can develop and refine the technique. We are also evaluating how we can transfer our experiences to other fields, such as neurology. The aim is to make as much use of the body’s own healing potential as we can”, says Paolo Macchiarini, Professor of Regenerative Surgery at Karolinska Institutet, and responsible for the surgery.
At the AAAS Annual Meeting, he will talk about how he believes the technology can be used in the future. This will include:
The plan to operate on a 2 year-old girl in the USA in March. The girl was born without a trachea and has lived her entire life in intensive care, where she breathes through a tube placed in the oesophagus and connected directly to the lungs. Without a new trachea, she will never be able to leave the hospital. This will be the first time the procedure is conducted on a small child. It is also the first time the procedure will be conducted on an individual without a trachea – as previously, diseased organs have been replaced.
There are also plans to transplant the oesophagus, an organ that is more complex than a trachea as it has muscles.
In experimental trials on rats, the research team has investigated the possibility to replace brain matter that has been damaged by serious trauma sustained from events such as traffic accidents, gunshot wounds or surgery. The aim is to replace the lost brain matter with a cultivated stem cell based substance and in turn, avoid neurological damage. The experimental attempt that has been conducted on rats and mice has shown positive results.
On two occasions, severely injured patients with acute refractory lung failure received stem cell based therapy showing immediate functional improvement. Although both patients died as a consequence of multi-organ failure, the result has provided the first evidence that stem cell therapy can be a promising alternative to restore function in certain damaged organs – without the need for them to be removed and replaced with healthy donor organs.